April 12, 2014

The emperor of scent by Chandler Burr

The emperor of scent by Chandler Burr

A story of perfume, obsession and the last mystery of the senses

[This book is about Luca Turin who created the perfume guide]

There are seven different stimuli (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami(richness), and astringent). However, humans are thought to respond to ten thousand or so distinguishable molecular smells.

When you experience a famous work of smell - Chanel NO; 5, Shalimar, Charlie, CK One, Opium - though a number of them have actually been designed by the same perfumer, you can never identify their creator. There is no ‘signature’ in perfumes. Approximately $20 bn is generated every year by industrially manufactured smells and virtually all these smells are made by only seven companies/big boys: International Flavors & Fragrances (US), Givaudan Roure (Swiss), Quest International (UK), Firmenich (Swiss), Haarmann & Reimer(Germany), Dragoo (Germany) and Takasago *Japan).

The big boys have two kinds of perfumers: The functional perfumers work with the J&J, P&G to scent Tide detergent and Palmolive soap and peach-vanilla candles and the fabric softeners that smell of million mythical spring times in distant countries we have never known. The other is actual perfume label companies. These corporate employees create smell track of our everyday lives, which we barely notice and for which we pay billions of dollars. The big boys won’t tell you who they work for and their names never appear on any of these products. All the golden liquid scents sold by Giorgio Armanis and Vera Wangs et al, they are made by these big boys. These haute perfumes, carefully anonymous and discretely faceless, are the ones who actually craft the fragrant elixirs in little jeweled five ounce bottles shipped into boxes that are sold under the names Gaultier and Wang in the department store's glass cases.

Each of the big boys spends millions every year to create thousands and thousands of molecules, synthesize hundreds, test dozens, and get may be one onto the shelves. In the end, the very very rare molecule that smelled strong, was cheap to make, had tested biologically safe and even environmentally sounds, was patentable and had a useful odor - that one becomes’ new product in the big boys commercial catalog. A single decent smell molecule that hit all the right marks could bring money flooring in.

Ambergris is the whale equivalent of fur ball, all the undigested crap they have in their stomachs. The whale eats indigestible stuff, and every once in a while it belches a pack of it backup. It is mostly oily stuff so it floats and ambergris isn’t considered any good unless it is floated around on the ocean for ten years or so. It starts out white and the sun creates the odorant properties by photochemistry, which means that it is become rancid, the molecules are breaking up, and you get an incredibly complex olfactory result.

[Wikipedia: It takes years for ambergris to form. Christopher Kemp, the author of Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris, says, “It is only produced by sperm whales, and only by an estimated one percent of them. Once expelled by a whale, it must float for years, then it must make landfall, avoid being broken into pieces by rough seas, and someone must find it.[full citation needed] In other words, the odds of finding ambergris are extremely small.”

Ambergris occurs as a biliary secretion of the intestines of the sperm whale and can be found floating upon the sea, or lying on the coast. It is also sometimes found in the abdomens of whales. Because the beaks of giant squids have been found embedded within lumps of ambergris, scientists have theorized that the substance is produced by the whale's gastrointestinal tract to ease the passage of hard, sharp objects that the whale might have eaten. The sperm whale usually vomits these, but if one travels further down the gut, it will be covered in ambergris]
[Dioressence uses ambergris - the link below describes how Luca created this scent for Christian Dior

In the spring of 1998, Luca Turin was invited, finally to an actual scientific smell conference and they wanted him to present his theory of Vibration. The conference was organized by the TIFR. The invitation is also sent to Eric Moyers, a world famous smell scientist. Apart from meeting Moyers that excited Turin, but what excites him most is his post conference trip: he is going to make a pilgrimage to the Bombay Muslims, among the most famous makers of perfume raw materials in the world. He is going to find the oudh (the natural one).

The hands of the perfumer are tied by the economics of perfume raw materials. Thousands of ingredients, thousands of different prices. the prices of raw materials in perfumery can vary by a factor of ten thousand. Stuff like Lso E Super (woody lemony) costs at $5 per kilo, but then iris-root butter from Florence costs $50,000 per kilo. Like the best Turkish rose extract Oudh wood from India in that stratospheric league. It costs around $55,000 per kilo. It is the wood of a certain Indian tree that has been eaten by a fungus. You carve out the rotten wood that has taken smell of the fungus and extract the fragrance. There is only one supplier to the West. It’s a drop-dead smell, very complex, honey, fresh, tobacco, spices, amber, cream.

There are still some houses who by philosophy stick almost entirely to naturals. Annick Goutal is one. Petite Cherie, a lovely super-pear, contains one molecule that Goutal chose from pears.

George Bernard Shaw was asked, what was the one question he would pose to God. He said, “why have You given us sparse evidence of Your existence?”

As per Turin, smokers are best smellers. The carbon monoxide in the cigarettes totally blocks the enzyme cytochrome P450, the enzyme in the nost that breaks things down. Block this enzyme with smoke, and you don’t break down smell molecules, so they hang out in the nost longer than normal and you smell better.

During the conference Turin talked to Richard Doty from PA/USA. Doty said, “you may have noticed, that if you breathe through your nose, you tend to breathe through only one side of it for a while, then for a while through the other. This is the nasal cycle and it is due to erectile tissue in your nose. When you smell info on the right side, you send to the left side of the brain and vice versa and you find a statistically significant increase in verbal scores when you breathe through the left side of your nose.

The Bombay Muslim vendor who gave natural Oudh:

Quraysh Aziz Attarwallam Aqua Aroma, 47 Bhajipala Street, Near Crawford Market, Mumbai 400 003, India, Tel: 91-22-344-3432, mail@AquaAoma.com

Luca Turin’s vibration theory: The Vibration theory of smell proposes that a molecule's smell character is due to its vibrational frequency in the infrared range. The theory is an extension to the more widely accepted shape theory of olfaction, which proposes that a molecule's smell character is solely due to its shape and electrostatic charge.


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